Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 is a well-designed ultra-compact camera with an ultra-wide lens, large touchscreen LCD display, full manual controls (!), and an HD movie mode. Unfortunately, it disappoints in terms of photo and video quality, and it can be sluggish at times, as well. Panasonic clearly spent a lot of time making the touchscreen interface usable, but they need to improve the image quality before I can give the FX580 an enthusiastic recommendation. The FX580 is best for people who value manual controls over image quality -- if you can live without the former, then I think you'll do better with another camera.

The Lumix DMC-FX580 is an ultra-compact camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. Build quality is decent, with the weak spot being the flimsy plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment. The camera, which comes in silver and black, is easy to hold and operate with one hand. The FX580 features a 5X, 25 - 125 mm Leica lens, which will thrill wide-angle lovers. It also has Panasonic's reliable optical image stabilization system, usable for both still and video recording.

On the back of the camera is a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display with 230,000 pixels. I found the screen to have very good visibility, whether you're outdoors or in low light. Panasonic has done a great job with the touchscreen interface on the FX580. For the most part, the "touch buttons" are large enough so you actually press what you intended to. There are a few situations where things are a little tight, but overall, I was impressed. When shooting, you can touch the subject you want to focus on, and they'll be tracked as they move around. In playback mode you can use the screen to zoom into images, quickly tag or delete photos, or just scroll through them with a swipe of your finger. Thankfully, Panasonic doesn't require you to use the touchscreen for everything -- the adjacent four-way controller can handle nearly all of the camera's functions, too.

The FX580 has a really impressive feature set for an ultra-compact camera. For the point-and-shoot crowd, it has Panasonic's "famous" Intelligent Auto mode, which does just about everything imaginable. That includes detecting, recognizing, and tracking faces, reducing blur through both image stabilization and ISO boost, brightening shadows, and even selecting a scene mode for you. It works seamlessly, and quite well. What really drew me to the FX580 wasn't that, though -- it's the full suite of manual controls. You rarely see an ultra-compact camera with anything beyond a custom white balance setting, but the FX580 does a lot more than just that. You can control the aperture and shutter speed, fine-tune white balance, or even adjust WB by color temperature. The camera has a full featured (and touch-friendly) playback mode, with numerous ways of browsing through your photos. It also has an HD movie mode, though the 8 minute recording time limit, giant file sizes, and disappointing video quality won't earn it much acclaim, at least from me.

Camera performance was mixed. The DMC-FX580 is one of the slowest cameras to start up that I've seen in ages, taking nearly 3 seconds. I also noticed that the lens takes quite a while to move through the 5X zoom range. Focus times are average or perhaps a bit better, though the FX580 performs very poorly in low light (which is unusual for a Panasonic camera). Shutter lag was minimal, and shot-to-shot delays were brief. The FX580's continuous shooting mode won't let you take more than 3 or 5 photos at the high speed setting, but if you drop down to "unlimited" mode, you can keep shooting at 1.3 - 1.8 fps (depending on the image quality setting) until your memory card fills up. There are faster continuous modes available, but they involve lowering the resolution considerably and boosting the ISO sensitivity. The DMC-FX580's battery life is well above average for its class.

Panasonic has done a lot to improve the photo quality on their cameras, so naturally I was disappointed with the results I got from the DMC-FX580. The camera tends to slightly overexpose (which is easy to compensate for, if you know what I mean), and it clips highlights quite a bit. Color was a mixed bag: sometimes things were nice and vivid, other times they were drab, and in unusual lighting conditions there was often a yellow or brownish cast. Images have the soft and fuzzy appearance that comes from heavy noise reduction, with noticeable detail loss in fine and low contrast detail. You'll also notice some more conventional noise in shadow areas of your photos. Same goes for videos, actually: they were surprisingly grainy. If the ISO goes up, expect image quality to go downhill fairly quickly. There was some redeye in my test photos, and there's no way to remove it in playback mode. I also noticed that my flash shots were quite noisy, probably because the camera has to boost the ISO quite a bit in order to get a proper exposure. One thing that was not a problem most of the time was purple fringing, which is removed automatically by the Venus V image processor.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 was a camera that I really wanted to love. Not for its touchscreen interface (though Panasonic did a good job with that), but for its manual controls. Unfortunately, things didn't work out between us: the FX580's mediocre image and video quality, sluggish performance (in some areas), and poor low light focusing are leading us to part ways. The FX580 is worth considering if you really want the manual controls and don't plan on making too many large prints. If you're more of a point-of-shoot person, then I'd recommend looking at something else -- Panasonic makes plenty of other cameras which do a lot better than the FX580.

What I liked:

  • 5X optical zoom lens with wide 25 - 125 mm range
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Ultra-compact body, comes in silver and black
  • Large, 3-inch touchscreen LCD with good outdoor and low light visibility
  • Well designed touchscreen UI (most of the time); nearly all functions can be controlled by the four-way controller, as well
  • Full manual controls (yay!)
  • Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene for you, detects (and recognizes) faces, tracks a moving subject, reduces blur, and brightens shadows, all automatically
  • HD movie mode records at 720p
  • Elaborate, touch-friendly playback mode
  • Above average battery life

What I didn't care for:

  • Noisy images, even at lowest ISO; noise reduction eats away at fine and low contrast detail
  • Camera tends to overexpose, and frequently clips highlights
  • Poor low light focusing
  • Color cast in unusual lighting
  • Slow startup and zoom speeds
  • Videos tend to be grainy; limited recording time
  • Some redeye
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment
  • Documentation could be better

The only other touchscreen cameras like the FX580 include the Canon PowerShot SD980 IS, GE E1250TW, Nikon Coolpix S70, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90. A few additional cameras to consider are the Casio Exilim EX-Z450, Fuji FinePix F200EXR, and the Samsung TL320.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-FX580 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our photo gallery to see how the DMC-FX580's image quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.